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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 December 2007, 15:03 GMT
Iraq warning over Sunni patrols
Iraqi Defence Minister Gen Abdel Qader Jassim
Gen Jassim wants the patrols to be integrated into mainstream forces
Iraq will not allow US-backed neighbourhood patrols to become a "third force" alongside police and the army, Iraq's defence minister has said.

Gen Abdel Qader Jassim said the Sunni-dominated patrols should be integrated into the regular Iraqi security forces.

The patrols have been credited with the recent drop in violence in Iraq.

But Shia leaders fear the patrols will turn against them after US troops leave Iraq, correspondents say.

Former insurgents

"We categorically reject them [the neighbourhood patrols] turning into a third military organisation," said Mr Jassim, himself a Sunni Arab, at a joint press conference with the Iraqi Interior Minister, Jawad al-Bolani.

The neighbourhood patrols consist of some 71,000 men, many of whom were formerly members of the insurgency, fighting against US troops and the Shia-led Iraqi government.

Patrol members are paid about $10 (5) a day by US authorities, but responsibility for paying them will pass to the Iraqi government next year.

Sunni neighbourhood patrol in Adhamiya
The patrols have been credited with helping to bring down violence

In their press conference, the ministers made clear that payment would only be forthcoming if 20% of the patrols are integrated into the mainstream Iraqi security forces.

They promised to provide vocational training for the remaining patrol members to smooth their transition into civilian life.

Although the patrols are successfully co-operating with government forces in some areas, there have been violent clashes between the two groups.

Last week, two policemen were killed and four patrol members were wounded during fighting near the town of Baiji, north of Baghdad.

Shia leaders fear that unless the patrols can be assimilated into the mainstream Iraqi security forces, the violence could increase once US troops have left Iraq.



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